I said it to her pediatrician when she was just a few weeks old. He laughed at me, told me she was fine.
I said it in the emergency room when her chest and throat were retracting with her rapid breath. They gave her meds, watched her for a few days, sent her home with me.
I said it to her new pediatrician. She looked more closely, waited, told me to sleep-train her.
I said it again when everything failed, when she wouldn’t eat solid food, wouldn’t sleep through the night, couldn’t make it through a cold without hospitalization. And finally, finally, someone found the something. When they did, nobody said, “oops.” They fixed her congenital heart defect, the source of every problem.
I flashed the woman behind the counter at Walgreens one warm spring day in 2002.
When I say I “flashed” her, I mean that I lifted my shirt and revealed my torso, bra and all. And when I say “the woman behind the counter at Walgreens,” I mean the pharmacist. And I remember that it was a spring day in 2002 because I was very pregnant with my first child, and I remember that it was warm because the heat was aggravating the very rash for which I was trying, desperately, to get a tube of prescription steroid ointment.
Earlier that month, I’d been having lunch with friends of mine when one of them asked me, “So, why are you rubbing your belly like that all the time? Is the baby kicking?”
I looked down and realized that I’d been rubbing steadily, absentmindedly, at a patch of my 7-months-pregnant belly. When I thought about it, that patch was kind of itchy, and I told him so.
“I bet it’s crazy when your skin gets stretched like that,” he said.
I went home that night and noticed that the stretch marks on my belly were looking strange. They were 3-D now, little valleys on the landscape of my body, and in the area I’d been scratching, a few of them were now home to tiny red dots. I rubbed some cocoa butter into them and went to bed.
Over the course of the next week or two, the red dots spread. I tried more cocoa butter, but it didn’t work. I made sure I moisturized my belly several times a day, but that didn’t help either. It kept getting worse. After a few weeks, I went to see my midwife. She took one look at my abdomen and bit her lower lip.
The house was quiet last Friday night after an evening of happy chaos. My children tucked into bed, I faced the kitchen with resolute attention.
On the stove, a nearly-empty pot of lentil stew was developing a crust. Next to it, the picked-clean brownie pan shone with spray-grease, and a cutting board with the shreds of peeled carrot and the ends of a cucumber was topped with my best chopping knife, visibly dirty. The sink was empty, but clean dishes dripped on a towel on the counter above my humming, hardworking dishwasher. Every measuring cup and spoon in the house awaited me.
I put on some quiet music and hatched a plan. First, set the oven to pre-heat. Get the next set of ingredients ready before you tackle the pots on the stove. Make some tea.
Every moment saved is vital to a mission of importance. I learned this in the years I followed this same set of late-night tactics to feed my family under a set of ridiculous dietary restrictions. In the evenings, I often made snacks, planned the next night’s meal or the next morning’s breakfast. I tried to clean my kitchen every night too, so that even I could start fresh the next morning.
It didn’t change my daughter’s diagnosis if I stayed on top of meal planning and dishes, but it contributed in a different way. When I didn’t do these things, I woke to a set of daunting tasks that kept me from pursuing the bigger issues of my daughter’s health care. If the day started with me unprepared, I played catch-up and my family absorbed that energy, too. Giving my family some sense of normality in what seemed like totally abnormal circumstances meant more work for me, but the results were worth it. As we dealt with a new set of daily routines and limited access to our previous life, whatever I could do to lengthen the fuses of my family had value.
I had to feed my family through that crisis. And now, I’m trying to feed my larger family through what’s to come. Continue Reading…
I was watching tv with my family over dinner on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last week when the phone rang. The caller ID told me that it was the children’s hospital where my daughter spent years being treated for issues stemming from a congenital heart defect (even though not all of her doctors realized it). We’d not had a call from that hospital in over a year.
“Hello, is this the parent of Samara Lewis?” someone asked.
I walked several rooms away from my family and answered, “Yes, who is this?”
“Thank you ma’am, this is the gastroenterology practice at [hospital name]. We’re just calling to discuss the socioeconomic impact of Samara’s treatment for eosinophilic esophagitis. Do you have time for a quick survey?”
I paused. I paused for so long that the woman asked if I was still there. I paused long enough to talk myself through the waves of anger, heartache, and indignance that crashed over me as I pondered the audacity of that question. I paused long enough to think about how I’d like to answer that question. Continue Reading…
Several months ago, I wrote a post called EpiPens Are for Moms, Too. It was edited and republished by The Mighty (with my permission), because I felt that the information I’d gleaned from my experience trying to buy a EpiPen from a pharmacy was important enough to share with as many people as possible. This week, I have news about this experience that is even more important to share.
Some background: I have a severe, life-threatening allergy to seafood. I’ve reacted with equal intensity to shellfish and regular fish, and that reaction is terrifying. My mouth begins to itch — an early warning sign — and soon afterward, I begin to feel my throat go numb. Once that sensation begins, I know that I have precious few moments before I will begin to have trouble breathing. That’s my cue to get help quickly.
To avoid dying from the accidental ingestion of seafood, I carry an EpiPen. EpiPens are epinephrine auto-injectors meant temporarily to arrest a severe allergic reaction quickly so that the allergic person can get to a hospital. The term “EpiPen” is actually owned by a company called Mylan, which owns the rights to that particular model of epinephrine auto-injector and, this past fall, came under intense public anger for raising the price of these life-saving devices exponentially. You can read more about this price hike and the history of the EpiPen brand on Timeline.
After the frightening allergic reaction I had to fish oil in a chewable Vitamin C tablet in late 2015, which I wrote about in my original post, I went to my allergist for a refill of my prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector. Though I was careful to get a prescription that would allow me to choose a cheaper, generic auto-injector instead of the Mylan brand EpiPen, I had a very hard time getting the pharmacy to fill the prescription for me. I wrote in September about how the pharmacist first gave me the Mylan brand without asking, charging me $280, then hemmed and hawed about the existence of a generic, then claimed my doctor wouldn’t prescribe a generic and, finally, after I stood my ground, suddenly remembered a coupon from Mylan’s web site that would allow me to get the name brand for free.
It was a maddening experience to have all alone in a pharmacy with no one but myself to keep in check. If I’d had several children with me, I can only imagine that my patience for waiting might have given out long before the pharmacist “remembered” the Mylan coupon.